It all began when New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd took a trip to Denver and consumed a bit of now-legal marijuana, baked into a caramel-chocolate candy bar, while researching a story. It ended with an infamous article published in the Times and a billboard campaign promoted by a pro-pot group called the Marijuana Policy Project, which used Dowd’s experience as the main focus of the campaign, and which was created in an attempt to educate the influx of marijuana consumers in Colorado.
Dowd describes her experience with the candy bar (or “edible,” as pot-laced baked goods are usually called) at great length in her article titled “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude.” What it comes down to, however, is the fact that she consumed the candy bar (and therefore the marijuana) very quickly, without knowing what to expect and without knowing just how much of the drug she was consuming. She ended up spending hours in her Denver hotel room “curled up in a hallucinatory state” and she states that at one point, she was convinced that she had died and didn’t know it.
Dowd herself admits that she should have known better, seeing as she hadn’t been a regular marijuana smoker before consuming the edible. But she also notes in her article that there are a shocking number of people who flock to Colorado (and now Washington state) in order to consume marijuana legally, without knowing much about the drug. Unfortunately, this has already lead to numerous accidental deaths, as more and more people have “bad trips” like Dowd had.
And that’s where the Marijuana Policy Project comes in. This group, which is dedicated to educating the public about safe (and legal) marijuana consumption, released a billboard next to a busy Denver highway in the beginning of September, and the billboard displays a woman (oddly looking very similar to Dowd) sitting in a hotel room — and clearly very distressed — next to the words “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation. With edibles, start low and go slow.”
Luckily, Dowd is completely on board with the campaign’s use of her experience, and she hasn’t expressed any hard feelings about so much media coverage stemming from the billboard. It isn’t surprising that the billboard has garnered so much attention; even the most mundane highway billboard is likely to grab attention from about 80% of all drivers that pass by. But taking educational campaigns about marijuana from so many angles — i.e., a newspaper (both in paper and online), a real-life billboard, subsequent news coverage about both the article and the advertisement — may just be what Coloradans need right now. The decision to legalize marijuana wasn’t made lightly, but Dowd’s story is proof that officials clearly need to pay more attention to public education regarding safe pot consumption.